Whole Salt or Refined Salt: What’s the difference?
by Cynthia Briscoe
Most Americans unknowingly consume a great deal of poor quality, commercial salt in the form of snack foods, prepared foods, fast foods and restaurant fare. The salt used in these products is highly refined. You can think of it as the white sugar of the salt world. Common refined table salt looks like salt and tastes like salt. However, you are getting much more and much less than you bargain for. Let ‘s look at the difference between commercial refined salt and naturally harvested sea salt.
Common table salt is mined and stripped of its naturally occurring trace minerals, which are then sold separately for profit as supplements. Magnesium is extracted by processing the original salt with caustic soda or lime, fetching a higher price. Other valuable elements in the sea salt are also lost or extracted. Some folks argue that the trace minerals are of such miniscule proportion that they are insignificant to human health. It’s true that we do not need huge amounts of copper, manganese, selenium, boron, etc., but our human biology is evolved to include this subtle but vast array of trace minerals to support cell metabolism. Natural sea salt contains 60 to 90 trace minerals.
After stripping the salt from its naturally occurring minerals, commercial salt is heated at high temperatures and supplemented with iodine and various agents to make it free flowing. The most common free flowing agent is aluminum silicate. Aluminum concentrations have been found in the nerve dendrites of Alzheimer sufferers. Many people avoid aluminum cookware for this reason, but are not aware that they are consuming aluminum everyday in salt.
Remember this cute little girl dressed in yellow, holding an open umbrella over her head? She adorned the carton of Morton’s Salt with the slogan, “When it rains, it pours”. The addition of aluminum silicate to Morton’s salt eliminated those pesky lumps in the saltshaker making it free flowing. Naturally processed sea salt has a softer texture and is hydroscopic, meaning it attracts some moisture from the air, which can form lumps. I would definitely “take my lumps” over “when it rains it pours.”
Perusing salt cartons in the supermarket, I noticed another agent listed on the back of Morton’s Sea Salt and also on Morton’s Kosher salt: yellow sodium prussiate? Hmm, what is sodium prussiate?
Sodium prussiate or sodium ferrocyanide (YPS or E535) is another free-flowing chemical agent industrially produced from hydrogen cyanide. It is added to road salt to keep it from clumping and a stabilizer for the coating on welding rods. In photography it is used for bleaching toning and fixing.
According to the MSDS (Material Data Safety Sheet), it is a hazardous irritant to the skin, eyes and respiratory system. Advised in case of ingestion: Do not induce vomiting. Loosen tight clothing such as the collar, tie, belt or waistband. If the person is not breathing, perform mouth-to-mouth resuscitation and seek immediate medical attention.
Obviously, the FDA must have approved a certain proportion of these anti-caking agents in food grade salt, but one must question the subtle long-term effects on human health, especially if an individual’s health is compromised. For me, I prefer the inconvenience of a few clumps in my salt box by the stove.
I remember Cornellia Aihara advised folks to choose a clean, white naturally harvested sea salt over colored salts such as the gray or pink salt. She said the colored salts were too yang or contracting for humans: that these salts were OK for pickling or for animals. She never fully explained why. I questioned whether this was a “Cornellia-ism” or simply because she exalted Mr. Muramoto and the salt he produced. I know many camps highly promote the gray Celtic Sea Salt.
So I called David Jackson, who processes and provides the brand, SI salt, available through Goldmine Natural Foods and is sold at various natural foods stores. His opinion agreed with Cornellia’s that the colored salts are more yang than the cleaner white salts and that he had observed that consumption of the colored salts over time produced some pretty yang folks. From a macrobiotic perspective (big view) perhaps the more mineral rich impurities in colored salt may benefit those whose condition is more yin or needing more minerals, perhaps for certain lengths of time.
So use your informed judgment and select a quality, naturally harvested salt that appeals to your personal needs and biology. Number 1, choose a salt produced by natural elements of clean water, wind, sun and earth with minimal processing. Number 2, choose a salt free from chemical additives.
What About Places Without Whole Grains?
by David Briscoe
In certain areas of the world there is no longer whole grain agriculture, and no modern tradition for using whole grains. And in some areas of the world people have never used whole grains. If macrobiotics encourages the use of whole grains as the principle food, what can people in these areas do? Yes, they can try to import whole grains, and yes, they could attempt to start whole grain farming in their area. But what has the actual tradition been? What helped traditional people stay healthy in these areas of the world, for generations, without whole grains? In two words: complex carbohydrate. To be more specific: complex carbohydrate with intact fiber.
“Intact fiber” is the key to healthy carbohydrate use. For example, white rice is primarily starch, and it is often surprising for many to learn that this is in fact a complex carbohydrate, but white rice has had its fiber removed in the refining process. Fiber allows for carbohydrate to be properly digested and more gradually converted to glucose before being absorbed and used as blood sugar. Complex carbohydrate foods taken with fiber intact have be proven to prevent diabetes, high cholesterol, and numerous digestive and colon problems. The healthiest carbohydrate is complex carbohydrate that comes in food with its fiber intact. Whole grains are one such food, but there are others.
At the bottom of my macrobiotic food pyramid, I used to write “Whole Grain,” but I began to realize that was too limited. Now I write, “Foods containing complex carbohydrate and intact fiber.” This makes it possible for people in every part of the world to apply macrobiotic principles based on their locally available and traditional foods. Placing complex carbohydrate foods with intact fiber at the foundation of daily eating is the healthiest choice and individual and society at large can make, in my opinion.
I was surprised to discover that Africa has had a tradition of whole grain as a principle food for thousands of years. This still exists in some isolated areas, and there are whole grains used that we have never heard of in the West. Some of these are pearl millet, fero. kam-kam, and African rice. Very unfortunately, colonization over the centuries has drastically diminished the growing of these whole grains, but there is a now a movement afoot to help restore the growing and consumption of traditional African whole grains.
Traditional people in many tropical areas have relied on tubers for their complex fiber-rich carbohydrate. Some of these we know about, but there are many we in temperate climates have never heard of. These include taro, manioc, cassava, and yam.
Today there are various movements around the world actively teaching local people about the importance of restoring the dietary traditions of their ancestors by returning to using complex carbohydrate foods with intact fiber as the foundation food for daily eating. Without realizing it, they are teaching one of the basic macrobiotic principles of healthy eating for human beings. This is very good news!
Some popular writers today advise the avoidance of complex carbohydrates, including whole grains, and they advocate the use of vegetables, fruits, seeds and nuts in their place. This won’t be possible for the entire world, or even all that healthy. The world’s population cannot be sustained on vegetables and fruits, or seeds and nuts. These are already very expensive, difficult to produce, require toxic agricultural chemicals to grow on a massive scale, and are wasteful of natural resources in their requirements for storage and transportation. Besides, the land simply isn’t there for this to be a possibility.
Some write that there is no proven need for the human body to have complex carbohydrates such as whole grains as a source of nourishment. This is a misleading and myopic view, in my opinion. And it flies in the face of 50 years of scientific research supporting the multi-faceted benefits of complex carbohydrates and whole grains for our health. More than that, though, it dismisses our human dietary tradition of thousands of years.
For the future, whole grain production and consumption will be the dietary savior of humanity and the earth. In those areas of the world where whole grain production may not be possible, as discussed previously, a return to the use of local and traditional foods that contain complex carbohydrate and intact fiber will be the essential dietary foundation. This has been our human dietary tradition for thousands of years, and so it must continue to be if thousands of years forward are to be possible.
Fearless Use of Salt In Cooking by Cynthia Briscoe
Salt is a critical element in the alchemy of your cooking. Good use of salt in cooking prepares the food you eat to be aligned with human digestion and human blood quality, and thus is an important factor regarding your health. How you use salt in cooking is especially important in a plant-based diet, because when applied properly, it gives vegetable quality food a strengthening vitality or good quality yang energy.
There is a lot of fear surrounding the use of salt. There are opposing viewpoints. In this series, I would like to present some tips and understanding about the use of salt, such that you can decide for yourself what is personally appropriate for your health. As David Briscoe often advises students, “Go from the land of ‘No’ to the land of ‘Know’”. I might add in behalf of all Kitchen Commandos, “Move from ‘Fear’ to ‘Fearless’’. The first point in this series, concerns giving sea salt ample time to cook with the food.
In her cooking classes, Cornellia Aihara taught students the importance of cooking the salt into the food. In most instances of cooking with sea salt, she recommended cooking the salt in the food for 15 to 20 minutes. Following is a teaching story she shared:
George Ohsawa once gave me only 20 minutes notice that he would be coming to visit. It was lunchtime, so I thought to make polenta, as it is quick to cook. In my haste, I forgot to add the salt in the beginning of cooking the polenta. I didn’t realize I had forgotten to add the salt until I tasted it. The polenta tasted very bland, so I stirred in salt after it had finished cooking.
Mr. Ohsawa ate his lunch.
Cornellia loved Ohsawa very much. It was important to her that he enjoyed his lunch. So she asked him in her Cornellia way, “You enjoy?”
When telling the story, Cornellia imitated his voice by speaking in a low, slow voice with deep intonation, “Yes. I enjoy very much. Thank you. But you add salt too late.”
Well, you might scratch your head and ask, “Really? How could Ohsawa tell that she had added the salt after the polenta had cooked?” You can distinguish, too, once you understand the difference of raw salt versus cooked salt.
First of all, raw salt has a different taste and texture on the tongue. If you look at magnified grains of salt, you will see little cube shapes with sharp edges and corners. That’s the natural structure of how the sodium and chlorine molecules adhere to one another. This structure dissolves with water. So if Cornellia had added the salt as the water was coming to a boil, the salt crystals would have dissolved and combined very nicely with the polenta. Raw salt crystals have a strong, sharp salty blast of flavor on the tongue, almost a slight initial burning sensation. If the salt has been cooked into the food, it subtly combines with the flavors and has a different slightly sweet flavor.
Also, perhaps George was very thirsty after eating lunch; another sign of uncooked salt. Raw salt makes you very thirsty. After a meal where the salt is balanced by cooking, a single cup of tea is usually enough to satisfy thirst. That’s why fast-food meal menus such as a burger and salted fries often include a ‘Big Gulp’ of a drink.
I have experienced this kind of extreme thirst after eating refried beans in a Mexican restaurant. If you cook dried beans with salt in the water, the beans stay hard. So the restaurant cooks a large pot of dried beans without salt, drains off the liquid and mashes the beans. Then salt is added to the mashed beans for flavor. The effect is much like the polenta: the mashed beans are thick and lack enough water to dissolve the salt. Thus you are eating a lot of raw salt housed within the refried beans. The next day, you may have lower back pain in the area of the kidneys and experience some puffiness or swelling. You also might experience tight shoulders or irritability.
Just hold this salt tip in mind and test it for yourself, in your own cooking or when you eat out in a restaurant. Experience and awareness are the best teachers.
How much salt is appropriate for me?
Follow your taste buds. The amount of salt you use should bring out a delicious naturally sweet flavor. The salty taste should be soft and not sharp. When planning a meal, vary the salt content in different dishes.
Enough to bring out a sweet flavor.
Na/K – Dr. Ishizuka Was Onto Something, Part 1
by David Briscoe
Ever since coming across the first mention of Dr. Ishizuka’s sodium and potassium (Na/K from now on) theory over 40 years ago, I have been on a mission to find out more. George Ohsawa based his macrobiotic theory on Ishizuka’s teachings. It was Ishizuka’s books on Na/K applied to food and health that first caught Ohsawa’s attention, and by following these teachings he was able to recover from serious illness. Over time, Ohsawa created his yin-yang interpretation of Ishizuka’s theory, and macrobiotics was born. In the process, unfortunately in my opinion, Ishizuka’s original Na/K theory faded from view.
Regretfully, I don’t read Japanese, so I have never been able to explore any of Ishizuka’s original writings. My search to understand Na/K and its relationship to food and health began, in its early days, by spending endless hours combing through dense scientific tomes and researching medical journals in university libraries. Most of it I couldn’t comprehend as I am not a trained scientist or physiologist, but I persisted. With persistent research discovering new bits of information, the pieces of the puzzle filled in to form a more comprehensive picture. Here’s my interpretation of Dr. Ishizuka’s theory in a nutshell:
For an example of a food, let’s look at a banana. It’s Na/K ratio is 380:1. From Ishizuka’s viewpoint, banana, though it can certainly be enjoyed as a treat now and then, would not make a good primary and daily food for human consumption because its Na/K is way high in K. An opposite example is bacon. Bacon is extremely high in Na and low in K.
George Ohsawa categorized foods that are high in Na and low in K as “yang.” Foods that were high in K and low in Na he categorized as “yin.” There are other factors that can be used to determine the yang or yin of food, but Na/K ratio was a significant determining factor in Ohsawa’s view. Ishizuka’s theory offers us another tool for determining how to appreciate a food, not just for taste and satisfying hunger, but for healing as well.
Outward Impatience & Internal Digestion
by David Briscoe
“If you have no patience, you’ll become a patient.” – Herman Aihara
You’ve probably noticed: it’s become a very impatient world. Individually and collectively, patience seems to be fading. On the road, in traffic, in stores, in relationships, in politics, international relations, finances, waiting in line, fast food, fast medicine, etc., lack of patience is expressed in many ways. There can be many explanations and opinions as to why this is so.
I’d like to present one that is not commonly considered, if at all: we’ve become impatient at the physiological level; and very specifically we’ve become digestively impatient. The human digestive system has a very natural and gradual way for food to be digested, before it is absorbed into the blood and then assimilated by our cells. Let’s look at carbohydrate, for example. The way the body works is that carbohydrate digestion is supposed to begin in the mouth; that is, when the carbohydrate we are eating is the complex kind, polysaccharide. Complex carbohydrate is meant to be chewed, mixed with saliva, and through the action of the enzyme, salivary amylase, begins to be broken down to disaccharide, a simpler form of carbohydrate.
If you’ve ever chewed brown rice really well, you noticed that it starts to taste sweet. You are tasting the complex carbohydrate in the brown rice being slowly converted to simpler carbohydrate, preparing it for the next stage of digestion. The body is smart. It likes to digest slowly and patiently. Next, the complex carbohydrate that has been chewed is swallowed and goes down to the stomach. No further digestion of the carbohydrate takes place in the stomach due to stomach acid that stops the action of the salivary amylase. The chewed carbohydrate moves from the stomach to the duodenum, the passageway between the stomach and small intestine, where is stimulates the secretion of pancreatic amylase from the pancreas, further breaking down the complex carbohydrate that wasn’t broken down through chewing. This disaccharide now enters the small intestine where the enzymes lactase, sucrase and maltase, break it down into monosaccharide, single sugars, that can then be absorbed through the small intestine and released into the blood.
This is a gradual and natural process, relying on digestive patience. It’s how the body wants to digest carbohydrate, if given the chance to do it right. In today’s world the carbohydrate most widely consumed is not complex carbohydrate. It is chemically processed simple-sugar carbohydrate such as white sugar, candy, high fructose corn syrup, and dextrose. Even many so-called natural sweeteners like agave syrup, maple syrup, coconut sugar, evaporated cane juice, and others, are highly processed into simpler and concentrated sugars. And honey, long-considered by many to be the favored natural sweetener, is 100% simple sugar, pre-digested by the bees. All simple sugar bypasses the body’s need for natural and gradual complex carbohydrate digestion, since it has already been reduced to its simplest form. It travels quickly through to be released into the bloodstream. This impatient, hurry-up digestion has become the norm, and over decades of modern eating, the body has become habituated to it, though it doesn’t respond well to it. It is well-known that many physical and mental health problems today have their roots in the over-consumption of simple sugar.
One argument to this idea of “patient digestion” is that all sugar eventually ends up in the small intestine as simple sugar prior to absorption into the blood, and therefore it doesn’t matter if it started out as complex carbohydrate or manufactured simple sugar. But it’s the rapidity and the quantity of delivery of simple sugar to the blood that is the difference between consuming complex carbohydrate and processed simple sugar. And I would further clarify this by emphasizing “complex carbohydrate with its natural fiber intact,” such as whole grains, fresh vegetables, and beans, as the healthiest carbohydrate to for digestive patience and overall health. Also, when the simple sugar, fruit sugar or fructose, is consumed I suggest eating the whole fruit, with its fiber, rather than in the form of juices, concentrates, flavorings, syrups and powders. Fiber in food has long been proven to support natural digestive function (digestive patience).
There is a saying, “Biology precedes psychology.” I would adapt it and say, “Physiology precedes psychology.” If we hurry up our digestive physiology, demanding that it work faster through the consumption of simple sugar of various kinds, we will see a reflection of that outward in all kinds of expressions of impatience. Outward behavior is influenced by what’s happening inwardly at the physiological level. The two cannot be separated.
Inevitably, all of the body’s internal organs are made to work harder by the modern diet of excess protein, fat and sugar, ultimately causing over-stimualtion of the metabolism and nervous system, giving further rise to personal and social impatience. Re-estalishing inward physiological and digestive patience, eating in a way that supports the body’s natural stability, we see outward patience being restored over time.
© 2016 David Briscoe
Yin-Yang & Truth
by Cynthia Briscoe
When people first begin to study macrobiotic principles, they often get frustrated trying to pin down yin and yang. There are columns and lists of yin and yang to be memorized, but the lists are shifty as items may change columns relative to what is being compared to. Why? Because yin and yang are not ‘things’. Yin and yang in actuality are more verb-like, describing the active, relative movement of energy. In macrobiotics, we use the terms yin and yang as a relative means to describe states of energy in its movement from an expanded state of vibration to more dense state of materialization with relationship to time.
Movement is the natural state of energy. Life is energy and we are made up of energy. Our lives express the undulation of energy between these two polarities. In our traverse between opposites, we cross that middle point of balance and that fleeting moment is the moment of truth: who we really are when the relative world is stripped away. It’s the eye of the hurricane, the stillness in the midst of the change swirling around us.
So what is truth? I think of it as that center core within us that rings the bell of peace independent of the swirling relativity around us. It’s our core, our home base. Perhaps truth lives in the center of the spiral in our DNA that we share collectively as human beings regardless of race or religion or nationality and individually as a singular unique expression of energy. As we traverse between polarities and cross that sweet spot, we take a snapshot to hold in our soul memory. We hold it up to the light in times of darkness to remind ourselves of who we truly are and what we came to experience in this relative world.
In macrobiotic practice, we try to move the edges of polarity closer to home center. Then as we oscillate between the poles of vibration, we cross that peaceful point more frequently and perhaps we are able to linger there just a moment longer. Macrobiotics considers the energy nature of everything and how the movement of that energy takes form in our health and conscious awareness.
In the book Food for Thought by Saul Miller, he popularized the simple visual of the yin/yang teeter-totter seen in the version below.
On the yang or contractive end of the food spectrum are condensed energy expressions such as meat, chicken, hard cheese and eggs. It takes about 16 lbs. of plant food to produce a pound of beef and 10 pounds of milk to produce a pound of cheese. On the yin or expansive end of the food spectrum are foods that express concentrations of that energy. For example, it takes 3 feet of sugar cane to make one teaspoon of sugar. When the extremes on both ends are reduced or eliminated, the pendulous swing between opposites becomes less extreme biologically, hormonally, emotionally and mentally. Eliminating the extreme yin and yang foods from the teeter-totter of our diet translates into less extremes of energy expression within our bodies, biologically and emotionally. In our lives, even though there may be the extremes of expressed energy chaotic and swirling around us, we are better able to maintain our stability and peace and to respond with stable and peaceful action.
Olive Making (Salt Cured)
by Cynthia Briscoe
Oroville, CA, where I live, claims fame as the home of the canned olive. When a woman named Mrs. Ehmann found herself widowed and penniless, she got busy and invented the canned olive, today commonly fitted as a joke by kids over their digits at the holiday table. The Mediterranean climate here in Oroville is perfectly suited to the growth of this illustrious fruit. There is even a town named Palermo nearby since it reminded the settlers of the Italian town.
Olive trees abound here, as well as abandoned orchards that gradually succumb to housing projects and apartment complexes. Some survive the dozer and provide landscaping shade in schoolyards, parks, and around homes, as they require no water during the blazing hot summers. For most folks today, the fruits are a nuisance, staining their patios and sidewalks, but for me, they are a glorious treasure longing to be acknowledged and touched by human hands.
The late fall and winter months provide an abundance of ripe olives. The colors are a rich and vibrant deep purple, almost black. There may be a few in the mix that are maroon in color. Throw in a few olive leaves and the palette of color will make your heart sing. Combine the olive picking with a picnic, children, grandchildren or a dear companion, and the flavor of your home cured olives will be even more delicious.
Salt cured olives are so incredibly simple to make that it causes one to wonder why more people don’t, especially when you view the price tag on naturally cured olives. Perhaps folks just accept Mrs. Ehmann’s version of the dark, canned olive as the only way to have an olive. Probably they have not yet tasted the rich, robust, complex flavor of salt cured olives, or experienced the contrast of cool earth seeping through the soles of your shoes, balanced by the warm sun knitting rays into the back of your sweater…or a blue sky floating cloud patterns above your head whenever you look up to reach a higher branch heavy with olives. Mix that with the sounds of children, flushing wings, birdsong and the rubbery firm sound of olives bouncing into a bucket after picking: authentically life-delicious!
Recipe for Salt Cured Black Olives
2 parts olives
1 part salt
–Pick ripe olives from the tree. Resist the temptation to collect fallen olives from the ground as those are more susceptible to spoilage.
–Sort through the olives and pick out any remaining stems and discard any olives that show signs of insect wounding.
–Weigh the olives and write down the weight.
-Take a small sharp knife and cut a slit in each olive. Place them in a bowl large enough for washing the olives. (The slit helps to leech the bitterness from the olives.)
-Cover the olives with water. Pour off any floating debris, rinse again and drain.
–Weigh out the salt. You need an amount of salt that is ½ the weight of the olives. If you are doing a small amount of olives, it may be affordable to use your expensive natural sea salt. If processing a larger volume of olives, use pickling salt that has no additives or you can use inexpensive rock salt (we use this for salt baths). This unprocessed solar dried salt can be purchased at home improvement stores for $5-$6 per 35 lb. bag. You can use it in the rock form, but I like to put in in the blender and grind it up as it dissolves better during pickling.
–Mix the olives and salt together.
– Slip the olives into a cotton bag or old pillowcase.
– Tie off the bag and hang either outside or inside. I have some hooks in the ceiling of my front porch or you can hang them inside a garage or other protected area. Keep in mind that the salt will pull dark liquid from the olives that can stain cement or walls. Be sure to put a bucket beneath the olives to catch this liquid. If you should hang the bag from a tree, keep in mind that the dark liquid is also very salty, which will kill plants. Some people say rain does not harm the olives, but if I hang them outside exposed to the elements, I make a rain jacket for them by cutting a corner from a plastic bag and slipping the rope through this small hole.
–Cure for 4 to 6 weeks. Once or twice per week, mix the olives. Simply lift up on the bottom of the bag and gently mix by rolling the olives around inside the bag. After a month or so, taste the olives. When the flavor is to your liking, the olives are done. These olives will naturally have more of a bitter flavor, but the bitterness lessens with curing time.
–Remove the olives from the bag and quickly rinse off excess salt. Drain well. Perhaps spreading out in a single layer may be a good idea if you are storing them long term.
-These olives are delicious to me just like this, but usually I dress them with herbs and olive oil, and store them in jars in a cool place for 3-6 months. They will keep a year or longer in the fridge.
– To dress the olives toss with enough organic olive oil to coat them. Fresh or dried herbs may be added such as rosemary, thyme, or oregano. I found that fresh garlic tends to grow mold, so if you like garlic add it to a smaller amount of olives and store in the refrigerator.
The Heart Is More Than Just A Symbol of Love
by David Briscoe
There’s a reason the heart is a symbol for love. It’s not just a Valentine’s Day graphic for commercial purposes. The heart is in fact the physiological base of love. Cardiology studies for years have shown that those who are most natural in their expression and reception of love have the healthiest hearts. And we use many phrases such as “warm heart, ” “open heart, ” “expansive heart, ” and “deep heart,” for a reason. They are not just figures of speech.
The physical heart is the organ that circulates blood and warmth to all cells, tissue and organs of the body. To be a “warm-hearted” person actually requires that the physical heart and circulation be unobstructed and free-flowing. When we say someone is “cold-hearted” we are expressing an observation of his or her behavior, but if we were to examine such a person, we would most likely also find that they are actually colder on the surface of their body, natural warm circulation to the surface having been blocked by long-standing internal muscular contractions that prevent blood from fully reaching the skin. These contractions are the result of life experience that has required the person to withdraw away from the external life and go inward. This causes a concurrent withdrawal of energy and feeling from the surface of the body toward his or her core, as a means of self-protection. The Latin word for heart is “cor.” To withdraw feeling from the surface of the body back toward the core, requires a physiological withdrawal of energy, including blood circulation.
Many people today experience heart problems, not only because of unhealthy diet, but also because life has brought them trauma, abuse, betrayal, alienation, and isolation. If you would like to read more about the role of the heart in happy living please read, Love, Sex and Your Heart by Alexander Lowen, MD.
On a daily basis there are many ways to open the heart. For example, finding ways to give to others in our local community can be a good place to start. One such way of giving would be to sign up to be a reading or math tutor at your local library. Or give some time to a local school or a local food pantry. Your giving doesn’t have to wait for a global catastrophe far away, there are people who need you right where you live. The world right where you are is waiting for your heart to open to it. Join me in finding ways to let our hearts flow openly to the world around us, and find our heart becoming far healthier than good food alone can make it. This is my wish for us all on this Valentine’s Day weekend 2016.
Food Fiber: Beyond Just Adding Bulk…It’s Prebiotic! by Cynthia Briscoe
I remember my first macrobiotic cooking class with Aveline Kushi. We drove from Kansas City to Chicago in our Hornet station wagon purchased for $150. Talk about trust in the Universe! The brakes gave out during rush hour traffic upon entering Chicago. Miraculously, we made it to the hotel ballroom where Aveline Kushi lightly floated behind butane-fueled cook stoves preparing a delicate blanched salad. I recall her words of wisdom as she blanched the whole stems of parsley. She advised us to include the stems because, “They are like little toothbrushes in the intestines.” The image her words invoked stuck with me, especially whenever I mince parsley!
This was in the ‘80’s (post Wonder Bread generation), when fiber was recommended to moisten the stool, cleanse the intestinal villi and add bulk in order to move the stool along, thereby preventing constipation and avoiding diverticulitis. The gamut of IBD (Irritable Bowel Disease), such as Crohn’s, ulcerative colitis, gluten intolerance and other subsequent related inflammatory diseases were not yet common medical diagnoses.
Oh, life gets more and more complex! It seems that generationally, diseases progressively compound to mirror our ever-increasingly refined dietary practices. Also, subsequent generations inherit the health conditions arising from the previous generation’s dietary patterns, both at the dinner table and through their genomes.
Here’s the good news, though. Aveline Kushi’s words still ring true, as does the wisdom within a macrobiotic diet centered on whole grains, vegetables and legumes. Current science reveals much more than little fibrous toothbrushes scrubbing the lining of our intestines. While fiber was previously thought of as indigestible to humans, turns out to be an essential food for literally hundreds of commensal bacteria (helpful microbes) in our colon with outstanding implications to our health. Perhaps it is the microbes that are wielding teensy tiny little toothbrushes.
Fiber is found exclusively in whole plant-based foods. You will not find a speck of fiber in flesh foods or dairy foods. Fiber provides a source of energy that plants can utilize, but fiber is virtually unaffected by the digestive enzymes of humans. Fiber travels all the way through the digestive tract intact until it reaches the colon. Most of the excess water and nutrients have already been extracted along the way. At the end of the line, we have colonies of specialized bacteria waiting for the “goodie wagon” to arrive so that they can have dinner. These bacteria thrive on fiber and are able to digest the complex carbohydrate locked within fiber and turn it a myriad of chemical substances and short chain fatty acids.
One of the most notable of these by-products of microbial fiber digestion is butyrate. Butyrate repairs the gut mucosal lining so that toxic waste and pathogens do not leak through the intestinal wall and enter the blood stream. It keeps our heart healthy by removing plaque from our arteries. Butyrate acts as an epigenetic switch that serves a healthy immune system by stimulating the production of regulatory T-cells in the gut. By keeping these friendly microbes fed with plant fiber, we can avoid the cascade of autoimmune diseases such as atherosclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, IBD, and diabetes to name just a few.
An interesting experiment conducted by Tim Spector, Professor of epidemiology at King’s College in London illustrates the significance of fiber. He collaborated with his 23-year-old son who was working on his dissertation toward a college degree in genetics. His son ate only a fast food diet consisting of burgers, fries and Coke for ten consecutive days. As a special “treat” he could also break the burger monotony by sometimes substituting chicken nuggets in place of the burger. He was also allowed extra “nutrition” in the evening in the form of beer and chips.
His microbial gut profile was carefully monitored and recorded through 3 different labs to ensure that the results were accurate. The lab results showed that in 10 days, he had lost over 1200 microbial species, a 40% reduction in microbial diversity. Spector stated that this experiment had changed he and his son’s perspective on why junk food is bad for us. Previously, they had thought that junk food is bad for you because of the sugar and high fat content. After the experiment, they concluded that the 10-day diet, lacking dietary fiber had literally starved off these helpful bacteria that need fiber to survive.
So next time you are craving French fries, a burger or a soda, think of your colon friends and have mercy upon them. Cook up a yummy dinner with whole grain, veggies and beans. And when you are mincing parsley, remember Aveline Kushi’s wise words and think twice before tossing those stems into the compost.
Your Own Morning & Evening Self-Health Review
by David Briscoe
The morning, when we first wake up, and the evening right before we go to sleep, are unique times of our day. In the morning, we are just beginning our day, and in the evening we are coming to the end of our day. Both of these times offer us a special opportunity to do a self-review of our health and well-being, whereas during the day we may become too busy and end up missing valuable messages from the body and the mind.
As soon as we wake up in the morning, we may receive a variety of messages from the body, but these messages often recede from our awareness, or disappear physically, after 20-30 minutes of being up and about. Paying attention to how we are feeling, and to signs and symptoms that may be present as soon as we get up, can give us helpful insight into the current state of our health.
It often happens that a person finds sticky substance coming from around the eyes upon first awakening. Or another person may notice especially swollen bags or puffiness around the eyes upon waking. Really dry mouth or “cotton mouth” is another common symptom noticed in the morning. Someone else gets out of bed, and upon standing feels pain in the bottoms of the feet and/or the ankles. Other kinds of joint stiffness, pain, and swolling are often noticd in the morning. It’s not uncommon for many people to feel stiffness in the neck and shoulders upon first waking up. The most obvious symptom in the morning is fatigue, sometimes coupled with the thought, “I just don’t feel like getting up.”
There can be many different reasons for these morning symptoms. The most common cause is the over-eating of acid-forming foods and drinks, especially late at night before sleeping. If a food is concentrated in protein, fat and/or simple sugar it is acid-forming in the body. This acid builds up in the fluid surrounding cells in the body, causing the cells to weaken, and as a result, organs and glands start to poorly function. Acid can also increase inflammation, pain, and general achiness. Increasing the consumption of plant foods that are alkaline-forming, while decreasing acid-forming foods and drinks can help over time. Most green vegetables are alkaline-forming in the body, as is vegetable soup seasoned with miso. Edible sea vegetables are off-the-chart alkaline supportive in the body. Whole yellow millet is a wonderful whole grain for giving alkaline support in the body. A varied plant-based macrobiotic diet is alkaline supportive overall.
The evening, right as we are lying down for sleep, offers another self-review opportunity. Complementary to the morning time with its opportunity for reflecting on physical symptoms, the evening can offer an opportunity for emotional and personal happiness self-reflection. We often find ourselves thinking, after we turn the lights off, “How did my day go?” or “Did I do what I really wanted to do with my life today?” We may think back for a moment on our behavior, or the behavior of others toward us, and our responses to them during the day. We might anticipate tomorrow. It’s a moment where we can get a sense of how we feel about our life as it is currently going.
I view one day as the concentrated version of one’s whole life. In the morning we are “born” into the day. It’s a brand new day like no other has been or will ever be again. In the evening, we “die” to the day. We must let it go. In between we live our day, and it gradually grows from its morning infancy to it pinnacle of youthfulness at noon, and then begins the natural process of declining into mid-afternoon, late-afternoon, early-evening, and finally nighttime. One day is the reflection of life itself. So, the morning, when we are born to the new day, and the evening when we die to the day, are wonderful opportunities to reflect on our life, physically, emotionally, etc. For example, if we find ourselves thinking every night before sleep, “I didn’t live my life like I really wanted to today,” and if we feel that way night after night, for years, it may be that at the end of our life we look back and think, “I didn’t live my whole life as I really had wanted to.” So, by taking a moment in the evening, before sleep, and reflecting on how we lived the day, may give us insight into changing and finding ways to live our days as we really want. This could have a profound impact on one’s whole life. Same thing if we find ourselves waking up in the morning and thinking, “Oh, no, I don’t really want to get up and go out into my day.” Of course, this might happen once in a while, but if it becomes the common thought morning after morning, something is calling for change. Our first thoughts upon awakening and our last thoughts before sleeping are wonderful messages to us if we listen.
As you reflect upon your waking up time and before sleep time, may you find peace and health!
More About What Your Fingers Reveal: Self-Diagnosis & “Unique Techniques Not Found In Books”
by David Briscoe
As one eats a plant-based macrobiotic diet over time, bodily changes can be observed externally, reflecting what’s going on inside.
The fingers give us much information, including how the body condition is steadily being restored from the past effects of what I call “hard protein” consumption. I use this term to distinguish protein from different food sources. From a modern nutritional viewpoint, all protein is the same no matter what it’s source. From a macrobiotic view, on the other hand, protein has different qualities depending on the food source. Therefore, there will be different effects on the body cells, tissue and organs. The experience of many people has been that when they change from eating the hard protein of beef, pork, chicken, eggs, shrimp, lobster, cheese, and most other animal foods, and switch to eating protein from plant-based sources, they feel their body becoming more flexible, resilient, and softer in the healthy sense of “soft.” The body starts to recover from the premature-aging effects of regular consumption of hard protein to a more naturally youthful state that a plant-based macrobiotic diet supports. Go to any macrobiotic gathering and observe the older, long-time macrobiotic, people there and you’ll see what I mean.
One indicator that reveals the type of protein a person consumes is in the fingers, particularly the area from the top of the middle knuckle up to the cuticle (see illustration above). When the body condition is showing the influence of regular consumption of hard protein, the skin on this area of the finger will be thick, and there will be few and very deep horizontal lines (see Figure A below). As the consumption of hard protein foods changes, and the protein consumed is from plant food sources, the lines gradually change from the fewer deep lines to significantly more horizontal lines going up from the top of the knuckles, and these horizontal lines become very shallow, and in some cases almost imperceptible (see Figure B: finger of someone who has been on a plant-based macrobiotic diet for many years.)
It takes time for these changes to be reflected in the lines on the fingers, but in time they will happen. By observing the fingers we can watch these changes and the natural restoration of the body from an increasingly less flexible, prematurely aging state, to one that is increasingly flexible and youthful.
Other “Unique Techniques Not Found In Books,” based on my 35+ years of doing macrobiotic counseling, can be learned in the 1-Year Online Macrobiotic Counselor Training Course. A new course will begin on October 15, 2015. $3000 Scholarship Discounts available for three lucky students until October 5. Click here for more information.
Figure A Figure B
Who doesn’t love corn on the cob? Raise your hand. What! No hands?
Corn on the cob has to be one of the glories of summer fare. Picture picnics and watermelon, Fourth of July, baked beans and children gnawing their way across ears of corn like teeth on a typewriter carriage.
The very first cooking class I ever had with
the late, great macrobiotic teacher, Cornellia Aihara was a delicious summer meal that began with her fresh corn soup. It was followed with brown rice, fresh gomashio, pan fried eggplant with lemon miso, pressed salad and an apple juice kanten floating with succulent bing cherry orbs pitted by chopstick. I still remember the simplicity and celebration of summer produce, attentively prepared, and so delicious!Two words often heard coming from Cornellia’s lips were “NO WASTING!”
Her instruction concerning no wasting contained implied lessons grounded in the practical, and expanding outwardly to embrace the more subtle realms of macrobiotic principles. She never overtly spoke of such things, they were merely implied and woven within the layers of food preparation and the rhythmic chop-chop-chop sound of her knife.
In practical terms, when it came to ears of corn, that meant making use of many of the parts of the ear that many people discard without thought. By utilizing as much of the ear as possible, we not only save money but also extract as much goodness as possible from the graceful union of heaven and earth forces that miraculously and uniquely express themselves in an ear of corn. We also honor the efforts of all those who planted the seeds, those who grew, harvested and transported the corn from field to table. We value the life of the corn that in turn gives us life and energy to pursue our dreams.
Following is the method Cornellia taught for cutting corn with “no wasting”. Not only does it show appreciation for the ear of corn, but you will appreciate new depths of deliciousness!
Cornellia’s Fresh Corn Soup
3 ears fresh corn
2 medium-sized yellow onions minced
6 cups spring water or filtered water
1 tablespoon kuzu
1 teaspoon sea salt
1 stem of parsley, finely minced for garnish
“Peach-boshi” – Making Umeboshi with Peaches? (Part 1)
by Cynthia Briscoe
The peach is my all-time favorite fruit. I’m sure this is the result of childhood memories of climbing the peach tree with my Missouri farm cousin and picking only the ripest, juiciest, red-cheekiest, sun-warm peaches right off the tree. We delighted in the heavenly stickiness dripping from our mouths and down our elbows as it stuck a day’s worth of summer play dirt to our shirts. To even think of picking peaches while still hard and green would never have entered my mind back then. But recently I spied small green peaches lacing the boughs of an abandoned peach tree. Valiantly, the tree had survived neglect and drought and yet still generously offered the kindness of fruit. Undersized from lack of water, at first I thought the small green fruits might be unripe apricots. But no, the apricots had already come and gone.
I remembered Mr. Muramoto, author of ‘Healing Ourselves’ had creatively substituted apricots, for lack of ume, and created what he called “apri-boshi”. “Hmm…why not try green peaches?” I thought. And so this experiment has begun.
Dandelion Oily Miso
beneficial to the liver and gall bladder, builds red blood cells
4 cups dandelion greens chopped into 1/4 inch piece
1 Tablespoon sesame oil
1 Tablespoon barley miso
1. Wash dandelion, drain and cut into small pieces. Separate roots and greens if using the whole plant.
2. Warm oil in a heavy skillet.
3. Add dandelion roots first, then greens. Sauté the roots first until golden, then add the chopped greens, cooking until the color turns bright green.
4. Add miso on top of dandelion green. Stir with a spoon or chopstick, breaking up miso into smaller sections until it melts into the dandelion.
5. Shut off flame and place in a small serving bowl.
6. Serve a rounded teaspoon on top of rice cream porridge or other grain.
As we begin to loosen from our cocoons of warm blankets and wool sweaters to venture out and enjoy the first stirrings of spring, it’s a good time to do the same internally with our blood quality. As you clear last year’s debris from the garden, or perhaps take a spring walk through areas less traveled, pay attention to the vegetation that rears up from the cool moist soil. Many of the so-called “weeds” are perfect foodstuff for aligning ourselves with nature’s tick tock.
Generally during the colder seasons we eat foods cooked in ways that make us feel warmer and hold more energy within our bodies. Who doesn’t enjoy a thick bean soup, hearty stew or baked casserole during the winter? We tend to cook our food longer and use more oil, both of which help us stay warm. Then there is the holiday fare of Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s when we often celebrate with special foods and tantalizing desserts. All this is well and good, and very enjoyable. However, about the time we box up the decorations, have you ever noticed that there is the inevitable mysterious flu virus that descends upon much of the population? There is always the speculation of which foreign country originated the hated virus. Perhaps we had best look in our own back yards for the source and well as the cure.
Actually, those who contract viruses at this time of year, might show a tiny bit of gratitude, because those pesky ‘bugs’ roll up their sleeves and get to work spring cleaning the excesses we have shoved into the ‘liver closet’, stored in the ‘intestinal garage’ or accumulated in the ‘lung attic’ over the past few months. With the ”joy” of tissues in hand, or experiencing diarrhea, headaches or fever, our bodies’ response to those little buggers helps clear the pathway to springtime from sluggish blood quality, congested lungs and livers, and other ‘junk drawers’ within our bodies.
Some of the best things in life are free, and many common “weeds” fall into this category. They are just there for the picking. So before you yank, compost or mow take a closer look and see if you can identify some of these beneficial common weeds. All of them are rich in chlorophyll, which is very nourishing for the liver. They tenaciously draw up bio-available trace minerals from the subsoil, which strengthen our immune systems and alkalize our body fluids.
Because they are nutritionally rich and strong energetically, use common sense and don’t over-do it. Forage wild greens from areas that have not been sprayed or the ground subjected to chemical pollutants. Also choose areas that are not high automobile traffic areas or subjected to feedlot run-off.
Here are three of my favorite common and wayside “weeds”.
Dandelion – serrated leaves with the crown close and flat to the ground. Flowers are golden yellow and produce a round ball of fluffy parachute type seeds. Beneficial for the liver, building red blood cells and a general tonic. Bitter flavor.
Wild fennel – Early in the spring, feathery shoots grow up from the base of last year’s plant. Pick the tender shoots and add a small amount to stir-fried veggies or a pressed salad. Has a mild, slightly sweet anise flavor. Clears heat from the liver, beneficial to the stomach/spleen/pancreas.
Wild mustard – Pick smaller, younger leaves for greens and pinch off stems of yellow blossoms. Blanch, pickle or add to pressed salads. Spicy, pungent flavor. Targets the liver and clears mucous from the lungs.
Our daughter invented this recipe when she was only 5!
4 cups napa cabbage cut into 1 inch squares
2-3 green onions
1 -2 sprigs of wild fennel, coarsely chopped
1 teaspoon sesame oil or olive oil
Soy sauce to taste
1. If the green onion roots are thick and fresh, finely mince the roots and discard the juncture between the roots and onions.
2. Trim the tips of the green onion if they are damaged. Slit the white portion of each onion in half length-wise. Line up the green onions and cut into 1½ inch lengths. Place the white portion separate from the green portion.
3. Have the chopped vegetables arranged in sections on a plate, as the cooking goes very quickly.
4. Warm the oil in a skillet. Add the minced green onion roots and quickly sauté.
5. Add the Napa cabbage and white portion of the onion and quickly sauté over a medium high heat, stirring. This takes no longer than 30 seconds to one minute, just until the color starts to brighten.
6. Add the green portion of the onion and the fennel. Turn off the heat.
7. Drizzle with soy sauce and cover with a lid for short time.
8. Remove lid and serve.
Pick only tender small leaves, tender flower stems and tender flower bud stems. Place in a bowl of water and lift out and drain. Repeat until clear.2 cups tender wild mustard green leaves and flower stems,
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
2 teaspoons Tablespoons soy sauce
1 Tablespoon toasted sesame seeds, coarsely chopped
2 teaspoons barley malt syrup (optional)
1 teaspoon ginger juice
1. Coarsely chop any larger leaves. Leave the flower stems and flower buds intact.
2. Place mustard greens and salt in a bowl. Knead the salt into the mustard greens until they become wet and the juicy. Squeeze out the excess liquid and discard.
3. Add the soy sauce, sesame seeds, barley malt and ginger juice.
4. Mix together until the barley malt dissolves.
5. Pack in a small jar and push down the ingredients with a wooden pestle or wooden spoon, such that liquid rises to cover the mustard greens.
6. This may be served 30 minutes later or kept in the refrigerator to pickle. It will keep as a pickle up to three months.
7. Serve one Tablespoon as a condiment along with a meal. It is also delicious as a substitute for wasabi in a nori sushi roll, as the flavor is deeply pungent and spicy.
For the mildest flavor and most tender greens harvest dandelion plants before flowering. The leaves may be picked and used for this recipe, or the entire plant may be dug and the roots used also. Place the dandelion plants in the sink or a large basin of water. Remove any debris and brown or yellow leaves. Wash off any soil from the roots. Lift the dandelion from the water and place in a colander. Change the water and repeat until the water is clean and free of sand and soil.
4 cups dandelion greens chopped into 1/4 inch pieces
dandelion roots, finely minced
1 Tablespoon sesame oil
1 Tablespoon barley miso
1. Hold on to the root and chop the green part into small pieced starting from the tips
of the leaves, chopping toward the root. Set the roots aside.
2. Bundle the roots and mince into fine pieces.
Know Your Physical Limitations: A Lesson From Herman Aihara by David Briscoe
Freedom is a wonderful thing. It is wonderful to feel unlimited. Even the prisoner in solitary confinement can be free in his imagination. Our culture teaches us to think of ourselves as free and unlimited. But we are actually free only in spirit. Physically, we are not free or unlimited. Probably one of Herman’s most powerful, simple and often repeated statements was “Know your physical limitations.” Many times this was misunderstood by his students. Some saw this statement as negative, and they didn’t pay much attention, but in this statement was contained the essence of many of Herman’s most positive teachings. In order to be in the physical world for a normal, healthy lifetime, it is important to know how the physical world works. It has rules. The body, being part of the physical world, needs to operate by the rules or it will get sick much more than it normally would, and then it will age prematurely.
We all know that we need oxygen. If we go into outer space or under the water, we must take our supply of oxygen with us. This is one of our physical limitations. We just can’t go anywhere we want, we can only go where there is oxygen. We all come to learn soon in life that the body’s temperature maintains itself at 98.6 F. It can go up a little, maybe down a little, but it can’t go up too high for too long or down too low for too long. If it does, our life is in real danger. This having to maintain a certain body temperature is another of our physical limitations. Nobody can buy their way out of this. So, knowing this, we make sure that our temperature never gets too high or goes too low. It’s become common sense.
We all have to maintain a constant blood sugar level, we all have to consume food and water. These things we understand easily. When we study more about the body, we discover that it has even more, not-so-obvious limitations. In our blood we have to maintain a certain concentration of minerals like sodium and potassium.
This concentration of minerals must be maintained constantly or we are in big trouble. Fortunately, there are automatic functions in the body that maintain this internal mineral concentration.
Perhaps one of the most important physiological limitations is pH or acid-alkaline balance. Human blood must be maintained constantly at a pH of 7.4. If it varies from this number by much, we would go into a coma or convulsions. Our lungs, kidneys and blood buffer system help the body remove acid so that the pH of 7.4 can be steadily maintained. It is a natural process going on night and day without stop.
When we select food and drink, it adds acid or alkaline-forming elements to our blood after it is digested. Protein, fat and refined carbohydrates (white sugar, white flour, white rice, alcohol, etc.) all add acid to the body. Of course, we need a certain amount of protein, fat and unrefined carbohydrate, the body can handle
them. It’s when we eat concentrated amounts of these nutrients that we create an acid blood condition. Many, many health problem have their roots in an acid blood condition. When we learn how to wisely choose foods according to macrobiotic principles, we discover that we can easily support our body in maintaining an alkaline blood condition. When we do this we are learning to live with a physical limitation, and we know how to stay healthy longer. By understanding that we do have physical limitations, and that be learning to embrace them and live with them, we become stronger and happier people. Living with our physical limitations allows us to root ourselves strongly in the reality of our biological life. When we accomplish this, our spirit is able to soar freely and without limitation. It is like a majestic tree, firmly rooted in the earth, supporting its branches in their reach to the heavens.
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